Amid piles of documents in his office, Kenneth Jacobsen has videocassette copies of "The Truman Show" and "Godzilla," complete with samples of the promotional ads and posters that accompanied their release this summer.
The movies, which have not yet been officially released on video, are just two of the 292,000 illegally made videocassettes that the Motion Picture Association's domestic anti-piracy forces have recovered in the United States during the first half of 1998.
It's never been easy to stem the $2.5 billion that's lost each year to movie bootleggers. Now the job is set to become more difficult, as the specter of digital piracy looms.
"This is what our future is becoming," said Jacobsen, vice president and director of U.S. anti-piracy operations for the Motion Picture Association of America, the MPA's domestic arm.
"It's a new era of mediums like DVD and the Internet, and fighting digital piracy could end up a main focus for us in a few years," he said.
Counterfeit DVDs can be duplicated at a higher rate of speed than videocassettes, and because they are smaller, they can be transported easily in large numbers.
"We are quite concerned about digital formats as they can be reproduced quickly, are smaller in size, and have the same quality whether it's the third copy or the thousandth copy," said Judy Denenholz, senior vice president of worldwide anti-piracy for Walt Disney Pictures and Television.
Jacobsen said the department is meeting with production companies, manufacturers of DVD equipment and Internet-industry officials to devise ways to head off digital bootlegging.
Jacobsen, who was with the FBI for 26 years before joining the MPAA in 1995, commands a 40-person anti-piracy team that works primarily in Los Angeles and New York, and contracts with private investigators in other cities when needed.
Another 150 international operatives report to Frederic Hirsch, director of worldwide anti-piracy for the MPA.
Hirsch said that while it's unrealistic to expect piracy to be stamped out completely, the unit aims to target its efforts in countries the industry considers most important.
In the United States, for example, the unit generally holds down piracy to five or 10 illegal videos for every 100 legal videos sold, he said.
Movie piracy starts in labs where numerous VCRs pump out copies of films that the studios might not release on video for months. The videos are often sold out of boxes on crowded city streets, at swap meets and even at video stores.
One of the largest residential pirating labs ever discovered was busted last month in the city of San Gabriel, where over 160 electronic duplicating machines were confiscated. Association officials, working with the county District Attorney's Major Crimes Unit, found over 1,000 unauthorized copies of unreleased movies.
Most of the busts stem from tips phoned in to the association hotline. In some cases, a competitor of a video store suspected to be selling or renting illegal movie copies will make the call.
The MPAA, along with law officials and studios, have seized more than 2.6 million illegal videotapes, 32,000 film prints and other goods that have led to over 1,000 criminal convictions.
While the MPAA has been located in the San Fernando Valley since it was founded, the MPA's international anti-piracy offices moved here from New York in 1993. The proximity is a plus for movie companies like Disney, Denenholz said.
"We're sort of like a team," said Denenholz said. "You have better communication and coordination when all the team members are in the same area."
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